Uzh colic examination

The unfortunately frequent sentence "My horse is colicky" is not true!" actually describes only that the horse shows signs of pain. In most cases, this pain originates from the digestive system, as this is the most commonly affected. However, there may be other reasons. These can range from harmless to life-threatening. Since this cannot be estimated at the beginning of a colic and the condition can also change very quickly, a colic should always be considered an emergency and a veterinarian should be called immediately.

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Things to know about colic causes

What are the causes of colic?

The cause of colic in most cases lies in the gastrointestinal tract of the horse. Both the stomach and the small or large intestine can be affected. Other causes that lead to colic signs include:

– Pain from the urinary tract (z.B. bladder stones). Renal colic' – pain coming from the kidney due to urinary stones (kidney stones) – is extremely rare in horses, so this is a very unlikely diagnosis. – Diseases in the genital tract, for example, twisting of the uterus during pregnancy or twisting of the testicles. – Pain in the thorax, for example in the case of severe pneumonia affecting the pleura – Neurological diseases – Laminitis – Severe itching or the presence of deer lice flies in the horse's environment (raving colic attacks)

Stomach overload

Causes of acute colic in the stomach are mostly stomach overloads. Gastric ulcers are more likely to cause chronic recurrent colic (link). Since horses cannot vomit due to a strongly developed esophageal sphincter, stomach overload can lead to a rupture of the stomach. Primary gastric overload is when there is a blockage in the stomach due to ingestion of too much food or swelling of unsuitable feeds. A secondary gastric overload is present when the disease is found in the small intestine. When the patency of the small intestine is restricted, there is a back up of the mash and gastric juice – called reflux. If this circumstance is not corrected, it is possible that the stomach can no longer withstand the prere and ruptures (stomach rupture).

The picture shows a stomach with a tear (bottom left of the picture)

small intestine obstruction

The small intestine is a long tube that connects the stomach to the appendix. Due to kinking during a turn or entrapment in existing abdominal structures (z.B. groin rings), there may be an interruption of the blood supply. This represents a very painful. Life-threatening form of colic. Reasons for buckling can be very diverse. Thus, especially in young horses, the small intestine can twist around several times until a knot is formed or the small intestine can get stuck in internal body openings, such as the inguinal cleft or the so-called foramen epiploicum, an existing gap between the liver, pancreas, vena cava and hepatic vein. An obstruction of the small intestine usually has to be solved surgically. The existing openings such as the inguinal cleft or the 'foramen epiploicum' can be closed as part of the operation or even in a separate operation. more

Rarely, small intestinal obstructions occur due to the feed mash, these can possibly be solved by means of conservative therapy.

The picture shows an obstruction of the small intestine due to a twisting of the small intestine, the dark part of the intestine has died off

Small bowel obstruction due to a fatty tumor (lipoma pendulans)

One form, more common in the older horse, is caused by a benign fatty tumor (lipoma). These so-called lipomas grow at the mesentery of the small intestine. Can reach a considerable size. Due to their own weight, these fatty tumors develop a stalk. Then hang like a pendulum from the intestine. These pendulums can last an entire horse's life without complications, however, the pendulum can wrap around a loop of small intestine. If it has come so far, the pendulum slowly tightens and leads to an interruption of the blood supply of the affected small intestine. Horses with this form of colic usually show severe pain and if the pendulum is not released there is a high probability that the affected section of the small intestine will die off. A small intestine obstruction caused by a lipoma must be surgically solved (colic therapy – colic surgery) existing lipomas are removed in the process. more

The picture shows a stalked lipoma (white round structure) which has cut off the small intestine, the dark part of the intestine is dead

Factors favoring colic

Studies have shown that there are factors that make colic more likely or more favorable.

Weather change: Many horses have an altered thirst behavior during abrupt weather changes and are therefore prone to constipation colic. Especially during the cold season, horses should have adequate opportunities for water intake.

Dental status: in horses with dental problems, it is often observed that roughage is not sufficiently crushed and that fibers that are too long are swallowed. This can lead to blockages. An easy way to determine this is to examine the feces. In this case, particularly long fibers can be noticed. Especially older horses. Ponies are at greater risk of developing gas. Therefore, it is recommended to have the teeth checked regularly (annually) by a veterinarian. more

Feed: Poor quality feed can also increase the risk of colic. This is not only moldy or fermented hay or silage but also a too short fiber length as it is the case with chopped hay or grass.

Change of feed: A quick change of feed can increase the risk of colic. This applies especially to horses that are prone to colic. Therefore, it is generally recommended to change the feed over several meals.

Water intake: horses that have no access or reduced access to water show a significantly increased risk of colic. Causes are varied and some are simple, such as frozen, broken or dirty drinkers. But also a very low flow rate of a self waterer or too cold water can become a problem.

Exercise: Reduced exercise does not necessarily lead to colic but is associated with a higher risk. Colic is understood as the swallowing of air. A horse that is colicky is referred to as a pooper. It is well known that horses with colic are more prone to colic. The cause of this is not yet clearly understood. It is amed, however, that the swallowed air and the negative prere in the abdominal cavity caused by the foaling itself are responsible for this.

Things to know about colic symptoms

Uzh colic examination

Ultrasound of the Abdominal cavity

Ultrasound of the abdominal cavity makes it possible to evaluate the abdominal organs located further forward, which were not accessible during the rectal examination. However, it can only be approx. 20cm in depth can be seen, thus due to the size of the horses only 30-40% of the abdominal cavity can be examined. In the case of summer hair, spraying the skin with alcohol is sufficient for adequate image quality. If the coat is dense, clipping the coat in the so-called “sonographic windows” may be necessary to improve image quality. By means of ultrasound examination, statements can be made about the wall thickness of the intestines, their filling condition, the position and the presence of free fluid in the abdominal cavity.

The image shows dilated small bowel loops, this indicates small bowel obstruction

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